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Charlotte in the dark over flow of construction dollars

‘Open’ and ‘accessible’ claims don’t apply to contract info

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 In describing the 2012 Democratic National Convention, some Democratic leaders have called it the most “open” and “accessible” in history.

But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be the most transparent DNC, at least when it comes to disclosing where the construction dollars are going.

The committee’s spokeswoman, Joanne Peters, has declined to provide a breakdown of all of the companies receiving the $7 million-plus in construction dollars for projects like the conversion of Time Warner Cable Arena into a convention venue.

While the DNCC has named some major contract recipients, like Charlotte-based Rodgers — which is heading construction-management for the TWC Arena project — it won’t, for example, say which subcontractors or sub-subcontractors are also getting DNC construction jobs.

That makes it hard to know not only how much in DNC-related contracts is going to Charlotte-area companies, but also how much work has gone to union workers and minority businesses. The DNCC has said it wanted both groups to benefit from DNC contracts.

The terms “open” and “accessible” can be found on the convention’s website and convention materials. The words have become almost a mantra of the DNCC since it was announced that Charlotte would play host to the 2012 convention.

The lack of information about who’s receiving contract is leading some to question how the committee considers this an open and accessible convention.

Stefane Berwald, president of the Metrolina Minority Contractors Association, said she worked closely with the DNCC to set a goal of one-third minority participation in convention construction projects. So far, she said, she hasn’t heard anything from the DNCC about meeting that goal.

“They haven’t disclosed any information,” Berwald said. “We’ve requested, on many occasions, the data. We’ve asked them to tell us where they are and share (that information) with the community.

“At the end of the day, we want a successful DNC. But if we don’t know how they’re doing, we can’t help them.”

Berwald said she has been vocal that her organization wants information about the progress that the committee has made on its goals.

“We want more transparency in general,” she said. “If the community made more of an effort, maybe we could get it.”

Berwald said that one of her main concerns is that without more disclosure, the DNCC doesn’t have to prove whether it met its goals.

Peters said the DNCC does not plan to ever disclose a highly detailed breakdown of where the more than $7 million in construction spending went in terms of recipient companies.

The DNCC never claimed it would be transparent when it came to that information, she said, adding that the committee’s goal, instead, was to be the most open and accessible political convention in U.S. history.

The DNCC is providing opportunities for the public to participating in convention events. Some of those are free, like the Labor Day “party” that will be thrown for the city.

Also, those who are unable to attend the DNC will be able to watch video of it on the convention’s website, an unprecedented step, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a Politico article, touting the openness of the convention.

But there’s no openness when it comes to knowing all there is to know about construction spending. Contractors hired to do convention construction work have been told to direct all questions to the DNCC. Rodgers wouldn’t say the amount of construction money it has received for DNC work, nor which firms it’s hired as subcontractors. Instead they provided a reporter with a phone number for a DNC committee representative.

Yet another area in which there’s lack of clarity involves union labor. The convention committee promised to use union labor where available, even though North Carolina is a right-to-work state. But Patrick Semmens, spokesman for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, said that the DNCC hasn’t exactly been forthcoming with information about union participation.

He said that the foundation has seen strong indications that there has been discrimination against nonunion workers in the case of the 2012 convention. But without being able to get his hands on more information about the contracts, he said, he can’t determine the facts about union involvement in the DNC.

“The people of North Carolina and the country deserve to know if workers are being discriminated against,” Semmens said. “If transparency is a goal they are aspiring to, I think it would be a good idea to disclose some of that information.”

GUION can be reached at payton.guion@mecktimes.com.

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